A Good Tidy-Up: The Missing Six Months: Chapter 2

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“Well, this is a turn up for the books! You actually asking me to curl your hair!”

“All right Mum, don’t rub it in. I just want to look nice for Andy, OK? And I can’t get this mop to do what I want. I really should have had it cut before now.”

It was nearly six weeks since Jean had sent Maria back to work with her short, tightly curled hairdo. Mum had, of course, loved it when she saw it, and had offered several times since then to curl it for her. Maria had been far from convinced, and stubbornly refused, but had secretly borrowed her mum’s curling iron and tried a couple of times on her own. She had been frustrated that she seemed to be constantly burning her scalp or her fingers with the hot iron, and try as she might, she couldn’t make it look half as neat as Jean had.

Tonight, she and Andy were going out for a meal with Sarah and Steve. She had struggled to get her overgrown waves under control, so in desperation she had relented, and asked her mum if she would curl it. Pam had of course been delighted, and in no time had Maria sat on a kitchen chair with her hair dampened and combed through, while the curling iron was heating on the side.

“Don’t worry dear, We’ll get you nice and curly for Andy. It’s lovely that he actually notices how you do your hair. Most men are completely oblivious.” She wrapped a section of Maria’s hair around the iron, waited a few seconds and then expertly slid it out, moving quickly onto the next section. “He could do with a visit to the barber himself, mind, or I really will put some ribbons in it next time he comes round!”

Maria grinned. “I know, Mum. I’ve been on at him to get it cut, but he just doesn’t seem to listen. I think he’d look so handsome if he had a proper, short haircut, but he’s a bit too attached to his long locks, I think he thinks it makes him look arty, or creative, or something.”

“Well tell him from me that it just makes him look scruffy! He needs a proper haircut, short and smart!” Pam tugged another lock of hair around the barrel.

“Ow! Steady on Mum, I don’t want it too tight. Or too stiff, or …. old-fashioned looking.” Maria was starting to get stressed. This had seemed like a good idea a few minutes ago. She had thought that by having Mum curl her hair she could at least get it under control, and hopefully also make Andy happy, but suddenly she was rather nervous of being seen in public with the kind of frumpy, matronly hairdo that she worried her mum was going to give her. And she didn’t even have a mirror she could look in. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself.

“There.” Pam put the curling iron down and started to gently tease the stiff barrels of hair together with a comb. “I think that’s come out very nicely, dear. You look very ladylike and respectable.” This wasn’t especially reassuring for Maria, but she had no time to object before her mother picked up a large can of hairspray and started applying it liberally.

“Stop, stop! I don’t want it all sprayed stiff.” Pam stopped, reluctantly.

“You need something on it dear, or it’ll all drop out in no time. You wouldn’t let me use setting lotion, so it’ll just have to be sprayed.” She made to start again.

“No! You’ve put loads on already. I don’t want it like a helmet.”

“OK, dear, but don’t blame me when it ends up like a bird’s nest. You’ve seen what the weather’s like out there.”

It had indeed been intermittently windy and rainy all day, but Maria was adamant that even if her Mum had given her a more traditional style than she would have wanted, she wasn’t going to have it turned into a rigid helmet. She went to check her hair in a mirror and get dressed.

Maria’s hair in the mirror looked about how she’d expected. Somewhat old fashioned, a bit frumpy, and despite her objections, too much hairspray. She frowned. It was at least neat and tidy, which was something she supposed, and hopefully Andy would appreciate the effort she’d made.

Having seen her hair she was now struggling to decide what to wear. Looking in her wardrobe, she smiled wryly as she realised that a few months ago, she would have been happily squeezing into a tight, revealing dress and 4-inch heels in preparation for a night of clubbing. But then she would also have had a face full of makeup, a fresh fake tan, long red nails and most importantly, a long mane of poker straight locks.

With her new sensibly cropped hair – especially after Pam had her way with the curling iron – short nails and a clean face, she knew she’d look ridiculous in any of her old ‘going out’ clothes. So she tentatively picked out a calf-length pale pink pleated skirt, stared for a few more minutes, and asked her mum’s advice on what to wear with it. Pam had pondered, and then fetched a blouse from her own wardrobe.

“Here, pop this on.”

Maria did. The blouse was white, with a high collar and full, puffy sleeves. The front had a delicate pattern of embroidery. It was pretty, Maria thought, but nothing like what she would normally wear, and she was slightly disconcerted at how much she now looked like her mum. Still, she wasn’t going clubbing tonight, it was supposed to be a quiet meal in a nice restaurant, and it occurred to her that Sarah was hardly going to be looking glam and sexy; with her short tight poodle perm, she would surely be looking even more mumsy than Maria. She decided to wear the blouse; if she was going to be looking prim and ladylike, she might as well go ‘all in’.

“Thank you Mum. That’s lovely.”

“Oh, you’re welcome dear. It’s such a joy to me to see you looking so lovely and grown up. I’m delighted to be sharing clothes with you, and I’m so pleased that you asked me to do your hair, too. You look lovely. I hope Andy realises how lucky he is.”

 


 

“I really don’t think much of this weather!” Andy and Maria had taken the bus into town, and the gusty wind and rain had made Maria’s hair increasingly dishevelled. They had now met Steve and Sarah at the restaurant, and Maria was checking her hair in a mirror. “It’s made a complete mess of my hair.”

Sarah laughed. “It’s not that bad. It suits you curled up like that, you just need to put a bit more lacquer on with traditional styles. Anyway, just think how much worse it would be if you still had your long hair! It would be tangled like anything, and getting in your mouth and sticking to your lipstick.”

“Hmph.” Maria fussed with her hair, trying to get it back into shape. She cast a quick glance at Sarah, whose tightly permed curls had, naturally, fared much better, resisting the wind and rain to remain looking perfectly presentable. Sarah saw her look and patted her curls primly.

“Of course, if you really want no-fuss hair, then you know what to do: get your bottom back into Jean’s and ask her to give you a nice short curly perm.”

Maria glared at her, but managed to hold on to her temper. “Well it needs a good cut, that’s for sure, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to look like a poodle all the time, or go for the weekly grandma sets.” She smiled at Sarah, but not in an especially friendly way.

Fortunately a waiter came to show them to their table before Sarah could respond and inflame the situation further. Maria found herself behind Steve as they made their way through the restaurant, and could help thinking how smart he looked. He had clearly paid a recent visit to the barbers, and his hair was cut neatly over his ears and well above his collar. The longer hair on top was gleaming in the lights and had been forced into a perfectly clean and straight side parting. It made Andy look extremely scruffy in comparison, his long waves hanging over his ears and collar. Maria suspected that he had spent ages fiddling with it before he came out, but it had still looked a mess when he picked her up, and looked even more of one now. She thought again that if he was so keen on her hair being kept short and neat, it was high time he did something about his own.

 


 

“Not again!” Andy and Maria were walking from the restaurant to the nearest taxi rank. The weather had been relatively quiet when they’d walked out, but the wind was now picking up and causing havoc with Maria’s hair. “I really can’t be doing with this.” She pushed her hair back from her face with both hands and let out a cry of frustration.

Andy bit his lip, and then, with the bravado of a few glasses of wine inside him, decided to say what was on his mind.

“Why don’t you just get it permed like your mu.., uh, like Sarah.” Maria started to turn towards Andy, ready to unleash her frustration, but he ploughed on regardless. “It wouldn’t get in a mess, it would take you no time to get ready, and you’d look really smart.”

All of Maria’s frustration boiled over. “I didn’t ask you!” She snapped. “And just because I’ve decided to smarten up a bit, it doesn’t mean I’ve turned into my mother, thank you very much. And I don’t see why I should turn myself into an OAP just to make your life a bit easier!”

“No, I didn’t mean…”

“And if you’re so keen on looking smart and saving time, why don’t you get a proper haircut; short, like Steve’s? After all, your Mother is always telling you to smarten yourself up. It’s ridiculous, your hair is longer and messier than mine!” She turned on her heel and stormed off.

“Oh, don’t be like that. Maria! Come back!”

It was no use; Maria had already reached the nearest taxi. She spoke briefly to the driver, and they pulled away, leaving Andy standing in the rain, disconsolate.

 


 

“Oh, hello dear. How was your evening?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Pam turned back to her knitting, knowing that Maria would inevitably tell her what was wrong if she left her to it. She didn’t have to wait long.

“I just had a massive row with Andy, alright? And all because of this stupid hairdo you gave me. It got all messed up, and I got really annoyed with it, and… Oh I’ve had enough!” She stormed upstairs, leaving Pam to reflect that there was just no telling some people.

 


 

Maria had woken up feeling terrible. Partly it was the hangover; her alcohol tolerance had clearly dropped sharply over the last few months of not going out partying, and she’d drunk a little more than she was now used to. But mostly it was the feeling that she’d managed to upset the two people who, deep down, meant the most to her; her mother and her boyfriend. They’d both simply been trying to help, but she had blamed them for everything that had gone wrong. She sunk lower in her seat at the breakfast table and took another slurp of coffee.

She decided to have a shower, to see if that could clear her head.

The shower helped somewhat, and afterwards, she took revenge on her hair, blow-drying it into submission with extra-hold mousse and firm application of her hairbrush. She took a perverse kind of pleasure in applying two heavy coats of her mum’s old-fashioned lacquer to leave her with exactly the kind of rigid, unmoving helmet that she had feared her Mum would give her the night before.

“Right.” She muttered grimly. “Let’s see that get messed up then.” There was little sense in this; not only had the weather calmed down considerably, but Maria had no plans to go outside that morning. She looked longingly at her old favourite ripped skinny jeans, but decided that they would look ridiculous with her primly styled and sprayed hair. She settled on an old skirt and blouse which were comfortable, but smart enough to go with her tidy hair and scrubbed face.

 


 

“You look nice, dear. And it looks like you’ve got your hair to behave. Very neat and tidy.”

“Thank you.” Maria smiled. It seemed as though her mum hadn’t taken her outburst last night to heart.

“Now, you haven’t forgotten that Benda’s coming round later?”

Maria groaned inwardly. She had forgotten. Brenda was the mobile hairdresser who had been trimming, perming and setting her mother’s hair for as long as Maria could remember. She’d even had her own school regulation ‘off the collar’ bob trimmed by Brenda until she’d managed to persuade her mother to let her grow her hair out.

Brenda was coming to give Pam a shampoo and set before they went out for a big family dinner to celebrate her birthday, and Maria had agreed a few weeks ago to let Brenda ‘do’ her hair too. That was, in fact, why it had been allowed to get as long as it was; there seemed little point having it trimmed by Jean when Brenda could do it a couple of weeks later, and with Mum paying!

Maria was starting to have misgivings though. There had been no discussion of how Brenda would style her hair, and she really didn’t want the kind of old-fashioned shampoo and set that her mother favoured for social occasions. Perhaps she could get away with just having it trimmed up neatly, and then blow-dried with a bit of volume to keep her mum happy. She felt that she had better put a marker down.

“OK, Mum.” She replied. “Don’t start thinking I’m having a shampoo and set though. I’m not ready to pick up my pension yet!”

She had intended it to be lighthearted, but the look on her mum’s face told her that it hadn’t gone down that way. It was clear to Maria that Pam had very much hoped to see her daughter with a traditional, formal hairstyle that would mirror her own, and show the rest of the family that her daughter was now a thoroughly respectable young lady. Maria inwardly cursed herself for putting her foot in it again.

“Oh, forget I said anything!” She stormed off again, back upstairs to her room.

 


 

Maria checked her phone again. Still no reply from Andy. She’d sent him a text as soon as she’d woken up, and tried to call him after breakfast, but she’d had no response. She couldn’t believe that he wasn’t speaking to her, she’d only said….. Well, she couldn’t quite remember exactly what she’d said, but it couldn’t have been that bad, surely?

She lay back on her bed, feeling, if anything, worse than she had when she’d got up that morning. Her hangover had gone, but Andy wasn’t talking to her, and she’d somehow managed to upset her mum again. She looked at the photo of her mum hanging on the wall. She looked like she always did; smiling, happy, neatly dressed, and with her perfect cap of tight little poodle curls. Maria remembered what Andy had said last night. She had mostly been annoyed because he had suggested that she should have her hair done like her mum, but she couldn’t deny that Sarah had exactly the same sensible tight perm as Pam, and she seemed perfectly content with it, happy to enjoy the benefits of zero styling and zero fuss, and not care that she was completely removed from most twenty-something’s ideas of fashion.

She couldn’t quite believe that Andy really wanted to see her with her hair cropped and permed like Sarah’s. He might have given every sign of preferring her hair short, and even curled, but surely an old-lady perm was taking it too far? She really would look just like her mother, and that was every girl’s worst fear. And there was, of course, no way back. A perm might not be, strictly speaking, permanent, but it would be a very long time indeed before she could wear her hair in anything other than short, tight curls. No, she shook her head. She’d need a great deal more convincing before she let Andy talk her into a step like that. She checked her phone again. What was he doing though? Why wasn’t he responding to her?

 


 

Maria’s ‘breakfast’ had been late enough that she didn’t really feel like lunch, so she stayed in her room, getting herself more and more worked up about Andy, her mum, and her hair. She felt terrible about the way she’d spoken to them both, and didn’t know what to do for the best. She really wished that Andy would answer his phone, and she just wanted to know what to say to make things right with her mum. It was a relief when she heard the doorbell ring and Mum let Brenda in.

After a few minutes, Maria skulked downstairs and said hello to Brenda. Pam was sitting in a kitchen chair, having already shampooed her hair in preparation for having it set.

“Hello dear,” Brenda replied. “Would you go and wash your hair for me, love? It won’t take me long to get your mum all rolled up, and then we can make a start on you.”

Maria trudged back upstairs to the bathroom. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of what Brenda had said. Was the implication that she would be setting Maria’s hair, the same as her mother’s? Was she even going to be asked what she wanted? And was there any way she could escape the rollers without causing another argument?

She wrapped a towel around her shoulders and picked up the rubber showerhead attached to the bathroom sink. Perhaps, she thought as she soaked her lacquered hair, she should put on a brave face, and, just for once, have her hair done the way her mum wanted. It was her birthday dinner, after all.

As she scrubbed away with the cheap shampoo her mum had left on the sink, it occurred to her that Andy would probably like her to have her hair curled too, or at least he’d get to see how she would really look with a prim and proper, traditional style, which might always make him change his mind. She rinsed off the suds and ran a comb through her short locks, looking in the mirror. She mulled it over and decided that she would allow her mum to choose her style, to show her that she wanted to make up. As for Andy, well, if he did like her hair, then perhaps that would be a way of making up with him too, and if he didn’t, well it would serve him right for interfering!

 


 

“Right then young lady, what are we going to do with this then?”

Maria took a deep breath. Brenda was at least asking her, so it was time to bite the bullet.

“Well, it needs a jolly good tidy up; my waves are getting really hard to control, but as it’s your birthday do, Mum, you can choose; I’ll have it done however you want.”

Pam had been hovering, head tightly rollered and netted, clearly wanting to have a say in Maria’s hair, but not wanting to seem overbearing. At this, though, her eyes lit up.

“Really? You’ll have it done however I want?”

“Yes, Mum, of course. I wouldn’t have said it otherwise.”

“Right then. In that case, let’s sort out those troublesome waves once and for all. Give her a nice tight perm, please Brenda.”

Maria’s eyes widened in shock. A perm? She hadn’t meant that! She’d just thought that Mum would want her shampooed and set, and she was sure that she could manage to keep smiling while she was rollered, teased and lacquered, knowing that she could always wash it out. Her mind raced, wondering whether she could somehow talk her way out of this without upsetting her mum once again. Before she could put her thoughts together though, Pam took her hand and looked into her eyes.

“Thank you so much for this, dear. It’s really lovely that you’re finally having your hair permed, like I’ve always wanted you to. It’s just the best birthday present I could imagine. And I’m sure you’re a bit nervous about it, and I know that you’re doing it for me, but really, it’s absolutely the best thing for you. You’ll be able to just wash and go, like I do, and you won’t ever have to worry about looking presentable; you’ll just have lovely neat little curls no matter what.”

Maria gave up. There was no way she could back out after that. She realised that she was going to be having a perm, and not just any perm, but a cheap-and-cheerful home perm, in her mum’s kitchen. It was about the least glamorous experience she could imagine, and she knew that there was no way that Brenda would leave her with anything other than a super-short, super-tight traditional curly perm, just like her mum’s.    

 


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